About 20 kilometres from Lugazi town, amid lush green roadsides on the Kampala—Jinja high, a nondescript paved road snakes off up a hill. A fast driver or an inattentive passenger will hardly notice as one moves from the green of a dense tropical forest or from an expanse of carpet like green sugarcane fields.
Once inside the compound, the same serenity is replicated, there are hardly any students loitering around.
Founded 20 years before independence in 1942, Mt St Mary’s Namagunga still maintains the quiet, clean and serene environment it did 70 years ago.
As one of the first missionary secondary schools that was later transferred to the hands of Government, the college embraced a policy of imparting knowledge through students’ self-motivation, hardwork, discipline and spirituality— virtues that have, until to date, remained a character trait among the school’s old students and have enabled the school to maintain its position among the cream institutions in the country.
It is no wonder that it has processed prominent persons that have played key roles in national decision making and provided solutions to some of the ailments that pervade the country, which was the aim of its founder as she moved down to Africa.
The idea of building the girls’ only school was conceived and executed by the Irish Franciscan nun, Mother Mary Kevin who dreamt of providing good health and education for the girl child in Africa.
“She longed to help the African girl. She wanted to educate a woman, something she believed would sharpen their thinking capacity and change their view of the world,” says current headmistress Sr Seraphine Amulen as she took this writer on a stroll around the school.
Sr. Kevin, as she is fondly referred to first established the school in Nkonkonjeru in Mukono district with only eight students. It was then moved to Jinja, and finally to the Namugunga hill in Lugazi, where the school lies with its current enrollment of 750 students. Her dream still leaving on, the school is still producing the country’s top students.
Carefully selected leadership
In its 70 years, Namagunga has been headed by only four head teachers. Mother Mary Kevin was the founder and first headmistress followed by Sr Cephas Comack who run the school until 2000 when she handed over to the first African head teacher.
Sr Cephas focused on training ladies, with a bias on academic excellence and spirituality attained through a self-drive attitude inculcated among the girls. She pampered the students, giving them motherly love but with conditions of excellent performance in class.
“She never at any one time canned us, all she did was to give us punishments to do domestic work, laundry, clean the toilets among others,” Ms Stella Byaruhanga, a chemistry teacher and an old student said.
It was during her reign that the school rose to the epitome of success to an extent of attracting persons of high caliber like President’s Museveni’s daughters and minister’s children. But the focus was not put on enrolling only children from well-to-do families; admissions were on basis of performance, which is the case until date.
According to Sr Amulen, every year is another one for celebrating great results.
1- Dr Specioza Wandera Kazibwe- first woman vice President of Uganda
2- Dr Christine Ondoa- Minister of Health
3- Eng. Winnie Byanyima- first Ugandan female aeronautic engine, head Gender at United Nations Development Programme, New York.
4- Justice Mary Maitum--Judge of the High Court.
5- Justice Irene Mulyagonja Kakooza- IGG
6- Professor Mary Okwakol - Vice Chancellor Busitema University.
7- Ms Salaamu Musumba - former MP and Vice Chairperson Forum for Democratic Change.